I'm going to switch gears a little bit and talk about Tattoo care. Anyone who has met me or knows me personally knows that I'm a big fan of some ink. I get tattoo's to commemorate changes and successes in my life, or to artistically brand values on myself. I have a couple on my arms, my back, etc. I actually very briefly studied to be a Body Piercer (I was still in highschool) but quickly veered off that path. Regardless, the point of all this is that I like tattoos, and as an Esthetician have been slightly concerned with the recommended treatment options provided as aftercare solutions by most brands and companies out there.
I recently got a new tattoo of a shamrock on my right wrist, with the Kanji for Lucky in the middle of it. All but 2 of my tattoos have been done by an awesome artist named Steve at Witch City Ink in Salem, MA. This is a picture of the tattoo the day I got it done.
Now typical protocol for after care, which will vary depending who you ask, involves the following basic idea:
Wash gently 2-3x daily with a mild soap (some will say anti-bacterial soap, but we will get into that in a bit) and pat dry. Apply something like A&D Ointment, Aquaphor, or Bacitracin for the first 3 days as needed, and then start using a gentle, fragrance free moisturizer for sensitive skin. There is A LOT of gray area here. There are also brands that formulate tattoo care, just like skin care bundles, that brag they are superior to the recommended drug store treatments. Let's take a look at the products mentioned, and the alternative options available.
First, let's start with Washing your Tattoo
Most places recommend a gentle soap to cleanse your tattoo. I highly recommend not using something like Dial Antibacterial or regular hand soap. It's too rough, too drying, and strips both bad and good bacteria from the skin, as well as taking away vital oils from the skin. In my experience, the result of most of these traditional soaps is a rough, scaly tattoo that looses a lot of pigment due to stressing the healing process. When picking a cleanser for your tattoo, avoid fragrances, harsh disinfectants, sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate, per example) or ingredients that you just generally aren't sure how to pronounce. I highly recommend shopping for your cleansers in the natural care section of your grocery store, or at Whole foods.
Dove soap is an o.k. option (probably the best of well known and easily accessible cleansing products), a lot of people recommend Dr. Brommer's Castile Soap, but in my opinion, a balancing act between the Face & Body Bar and Sensitive Cleanser Rx, is the best option I've found for cleaning a fresh tattoo (or body piercing!) ever. Here's why-
The Face & Body Bar cleans very effectively, and will help removed any dried blood or oozing that a fresh tattoo will have. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, but promotes these actions gemtly. I generally use the Face & Body Bar for the first few days, as it removes any residues or films the tattoo may encounter. But the skin has just been stabbed a couple thousand times with needles! The skin is very sensitive and will very easily dry out, so after the first few days limit use of the Face & Body bar (or whatever other foaming soap you may choose) to once a day.
The Sensitive Cleanser Rx, is ESSENTIAL for me personally after the 4th or 5th day of the tattoo. The tattoo starts to take on a dry snake skin appearance and sheds at least one layer of skin. The Sensitive Cleanser Rx will clean it, without creating additional dryness. My current tattoo pictured above is currently enjoying only being washed twice a day with Sensitive Cleanser. I will continue doing this for the next week or so, until I think the skin is ready to be treated as normal.
The next step is Treating and Moisturizing your Tattoo
Here's where it gets tricky. The most commonly recommended after care products are Bacitracin, Aquaphor, A&D Ointment or/in conjunction with a fragrance free moisturizer. I personally don't feel great about any of the options recommended, and here's why:
Active Ingredients: (each gram contains): Bacitracin (500 units) (Antibiotic)
Inactive Ingredients: Light Mineral Oil, White Petrolatum
So basically, it's a drug mixed with mineral oil and petrolatum as the vehicle. Firstly, Bacitracin is a very common allergen. It was actually voted as Allergen of the Year back in 2003, and my mom actually is allergic to this ingredient. She got a tattoo when I was a kid and had to get an anti-histamine injection to take down the swelling caused by the tattoo artists recommendation to apply bacitracin. But what I'm MORE concerned about,which is more applicable when allergy isn't a concern, is the application of mineral oil or petrolatum to the skin. These oils are cheap, dirty in the literal sense, and cause damage to the skin. When Mineral Oil and Petrolatum dry, they take moisture OUT of the skin with it. If you've ever heard of the "chapstick addiction", it's the same idea. The more you apply the petrolatum, the more you need too. It has a rich lubricating effect at first to relieve discomfort, and as it dries it worsens the problem, thus requiring you to continuously reapply the product to create comfort on the skin. Thus, and unhealthy addiction that damages the skin. And people recommend this applied to a freshly tattooed/traumatized skin? I just think it's a horrible idea.
Active Ingredients: Petrolatum
Inactive Ingredients: Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol
So we already know that this product also contains mineral oil and petrolatum, which in my opinion make it a deal breaker. It also contains the be vitamin panthenol, lanolin alcohol (lanolin is produced from sheep, so this is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans) and towards the end, the only seemingly decent ingredient, glycerin. Essentially, a slew of dehydrating ingredients of a lesser quality, mixed with a little glycerin so they claim of "moisturizing" can actually be made. I personally think this is another one that should be left on the shelf, but I am told its the most frequently recommended tattoo and eczema care product. Years ago I tried this for the treatment of eczema and it seemed to actually help at first, and after about 2 days of use I could tell that it really made it worse.
Active Ingredients: Contains: Petrolatum (53.4% - Skin Protectant), Lanolin (15.5% - Skin Protectant)
Inactive Ingredients: Cod Liver Oil (contains Vitamin A & Vitamin D), Fragrance (Parfum), Light Mineral Oil, Microcrystalline Wax, Beeswax (Apis Mellifera)
So I said above when reviewing Aquaphor that it is the most commonly recommended after care, at least at first. That conclusion was actually drawn from online research and tattoo forums, because it's been my own personal experience that A&D Ointment has been what I've always been recommended. So, firstly, our enemy petroleum is back, and further down the list there's the mineral oil. Now we have the A & D Vitamins sourced from Cod Liver Oil, which is a nice idea in theory, however there are two possible problems. Problem A, is that the cod liver oil is refined to the point that the traces of A & D that were present at the time it was evaluated are far removed, or the product is under refined making is essentially "dirty." Lanolin (which we saw Lanolin Alcohol present in the Aquaphor) is a natural wax coating on sheep wool and is removed by boiling the wool and collecting the wax, and is a potential allergen in many people. Then, it has added FRAGRANCE which is a big no-no for a fresh tattoo. I have a friend who has both his arms covered in tattoos, and his tattoos look good to be honest, and he swears by this stuff - however, I've spent a day with him after he had just gotten a new tattoo and he reapplied the A&D Ointment more times than I could count - because it only makes the skin temporarily comfortable, and then it dries and the skin cries out for more.
I've also used Ointment Rx by 302 on a tattoo, and while it's ingredients are safe and don't cause contraindication, it also doesn't provide the amount of lubrication that is sometimes necessary with a new tattoo. I like using 302 Ointment on a new tattoo from time to time, when I don't feel it requires such deep moisture. It protects it, and takes down any swelling or redness. However, it may not be enough on it's own. This is great to use after the first peeling of the tattoo is completed, as fresh skin is available that is sensitive but not necessarily in need of deep lubrication in terms of comfort. Only through trial and error did I establish that the Ointment Rx by 302 was a good part of healthy tattoo care, but not really enough on its own.
Displeased with the frequently referred too, or most easily obtainable, products for tattoo care, I went on a search. I found two major brands that specialize in tattoo care, and a third option that is my true favorite for tattoo care.
Blue Green Cleansing Foam Ingredients: Benzalkonium chloride, Purified Water, Poloamer 188, Aloe barbadensis Leaf Juice, Disodium EDTA, Salt.
Ocean Care Ingredients:Deionized/Reverse Osmosis Purified Water, Stearic Acid (coconut), Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin (vegetable), Dimethicone (silica), Jojoba oil, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Rose Hip Seed Oil, , PEG 8 Sterate, , Cetyl alcohol, Aloe Vera Gel, Triethanolamine, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Allantoin, Sea Salt, Sclerotium Gum.
Ocean Foam Ingredients: Purified Water, Propellant, Dimethicone, Glycerine, Stearic Acid, Coconut Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Alcohol, polyvinylpyrrolidone, Triethanolamine(tea), Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Allantoin, Sea Kelp, Methyl Paraben, Sea Salt, Lysozyme, Propyl Paraben,
The Brand H2Ocean creates a three step skincare program (kind of like Clinique, which I wouldn't recommend either) for tattoo Aftercare. It brings together a Cleanser, Moisturizer, and Protectant to be used as system. Well I tried it, and it was unfortunately the worst of things I've tried. When you research these products online, they omit the presence of Benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient in the Foam Cleanser, which can be very drying. I felt slightly played that the companies website didn't list the presence of the b. chloride, and had to find it on the back of the box after purchase. I also found the foam cleanser stung, and didn't effectively remove discharge from the tattoo. The moisturizer, despite being petroleum free and having contained some decent ingredients, was over-run with fillers and unnecessary preservatives. It's not formulated horribly though, and is in fact better a lot of the typical body lotions you'll find, But I didn't find it lived up to its claims of soothing or even effective. I personally preferred using Recovery Plus Intensive with the treatment of a prior tattoo, and the formulation and purity of ingredients is far more trustworthy. Bringing up the rear is the Ocean Foam, which is a foam used to create a barrier and "protect & lock in color." In addition to the stinging effect, its primarily fillers and stabilizers with a lot of silicones and some o.k. stuff rounding up the bottom of the ingredient list. All and all, I was disappointed with this line-up. I even suspect it as a culprit in some lost color in one of my tattoos. However,
To go on an offshoot for a moment, their piercing after care spray is the real gem of a product. The sea salt piercing spray is great for any body piercing aftercare, or even for basic ear piercings. If helps with infection, irritation, redness, discharge - most issues found in any piercing. Even if you just get some scaly patches on your ears when you wear jewelry made of cheaper metals, it will help relieve it. Unfortunately the tattoo care is not as effective as the piercing care in my opinion. Now back to tattoo care:
Next, Tattoo Goo
Tattoo Goo IngredientsL Olive Oil, Beeswax, Cocoa Butter, Wheat Germ oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lavender Oil, Sunflower Oil, Rosemary Extract,, D&C Green 6
Now I almost wish I had tried this one instead; Much better line up of ingredients, all natural oils to lubricate and help with healing of the skin. Vitamin E is in their and beeswax to provide a lightly occlusive effect. Unfortunately, dye was added in which is unecessary in my opinion. It also contains wheat germ oil, which contains gluten, which I am allergic too. Thus, not a good choice for me personally, however if wheat gluten isn't a concern than I'd give this one a thumbs up. I'm not psyched about the dye, but it's nowhere near as big a concern as petroleum, parabens or sulfates in my opinion. I have heard reviews that this product is rather thick and sticky, but I'm passing my judgment based on research, as I haven't actually tried/felt this one on myself.
I tried Jojoba oil as well, but it didn't really help nor hurt. It's "dry" for an oil, but because jojoba mimics the skin's own sebum I gave it a shot.
Inspired by research, trial and error, and really gaining an idea as the needs (in terms of comfort and healing) of a fresh tattoo, I finally found something I was really happy with. And ofcourse, I found it at Wholefoods.
Avalon Organics Baby Protective A, D & E Ointment:
Ingredients: Castor Seed Oil , Organic Coconut Oil , Tribehenin (Canola Oil) , Hydrogenated Castor Oil , Organic Flower Extracts (Certified by Quality Assurance International) , (Calendula , Calendula , Chamomile , Chamomile) , Organic Seed Oils (Certified by Quality Assurance International) , (Safflower , Safflower , Sunflower , Sunflower , Jojoba , Jojoba) , Organic Olive Fruit Oil , Vitamin E , Vitamin A , Vitamin D
This product has the slip, comfort and lubrication that a freshly tattooed person will desire, without the petroleum, lanolin, alcohol, or fillers, parabens, fragrance, sulfates, and all the other no-no's. It's an organic products formulated for babies, with a nice rich blend of oils and flower extracts, and Vitamins A, D, & E. Unlike A&D Ointment, it doesn't need to be frequently applied. One light layer does last a few hours providing comfort, protection and moisture. This was the winning Ointment, in my opinion. It feels the nicest of what I've tried, as well. I know 302 Skincare advises against the mixing of vitamins topically and with continued use it will create receptor fatigue, but this product is only being used on a fresh tattoo for the first week or two. Then you could return to your normal moisturizer, or in my case 302 Body & Scalp Drops.
So, just to summarize my personal tattoo regime:
Initially, allow the tattoo to stay covered for a few hours after first receiving it. Depending on the size and place the tattoo artist may give you a different time line, but after I remove the covering I let it breathe for a little bit before I gently wash it with 302 Face & Body Bar and then apply a very light layer of the Avalon Organics Protective Ointment wit a gentle touch. This is generally continued for 3+ days, washing morning and night with the bar and applying the Avalon Organics Protective Ointment as needed with clean dry hands.
After the 3rd or fourth day, the tattoo will naturally start to loose some skin and get flaky. If over dried, it will have a leathery appearance (this is minimized with the protective ointment). I find it can also be a little tender at this point, so backing off on the bar and using the Sensitive Cleanser or Sensitive Cleanser Rx is very helpful.
After the first week it, it can really depend on your skins needs. Once the first layer of skin is all peeled, and you have fresh skin showing (it has a shiny new skin texture and look) I try to switch to Ointment Rx, just to keep is protected and provide light moisture. Sometimes I dance between the 302 Ointment Rx and the Avalon Organics Protective Ointment, as sometimes you want extra moisture/lubrication. Sometimes, if I just want a happy medium between the Rich Protective Ointment and the lighter 302 Ointment Rx, I will just use 302's Recovery Plus or Recovery Plus Intensive. This is a great lightweight moisturizer that doesn't sting, and will provide some moisture, without the occlusion of the ointments. The idea is to wean the skin off the thicker ointment and replacement with a normal moisturizer.
Once the texture of the tattoo is closer to that of normal skin (basically when the texture of the tattoo becomes more like the texture of the skin around it) I only use Recovery Plus or Ointment for a few more days, and then generally stop noticing that area of skin needing individual attention, and it gets washed with the Bar daily and massaged with 302 Body & Scalp Drops periodically, like the rest of me.
So I hope some of you found that interesting, as I know this probably isn't an expected post. In lieu of the new tattoo, and the much larger and more elaborate tattoo I'm getting next Sunday (super excited, getting it the day after my birthday, as a gift from my soul mate. thanks Jim!), I found it appropriate to look at tattoo care from a Esthetic, Holistic, and health conscious point of view. I hope any of you getting tattoo's in the future can put my experiences and research to good use. Please feel free to post any comments or questions, and I will answer them.
Wishing you Great Skin (and a happily healed tattoo!),
(EDITED TO ADD: Just for the sake of being safe, I'd like to make it known that I am an Esthetician, a Make-up Artist, and a Health Counselor in Training, NOT a Tattoo Artist or a Doctor. Please take that into consideration.)